Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT Sloan) Essay Analysis, 2020–2021


Perhaps to the consternation of some candidates this season, MIT Sloan has maintained its interesting “cover letter” essay and self-introduction video, including the important qualification for the video portion that it added last year—one that asks applicants to discuss their background and their perceived fit with the Sloan program. We assume that the admissions committee wanted to ensure that candidates would provide this important information. As we have noted in the past, while somewhat unorthodox, the school’s prompts allow applicants to offer a balanced view of their professional and personal profiles, with a good amount of leeway for creativity. Read on for our full MBA essay analysis for MIT Sloan. 

Cover Letter: MIT Sloan seeks students whose personal characteristics demonstrate that they will make the most of the incredible opportunities at MIT, both academic and non-academic. We are on a quest to find those whose presence will enhance the experience of other students. We seek thoughtful leaders with exceptional intellectual abilities and the drive and determination to put their stamp on the world. We welcome people who are independent, authentic, and fearlessly creative—true doers. We want people who can redefine solutions to conventional problems, and strive to preempt unconventional dilemmas with cutting-edge ideas. We demand integrity and respect passion.

Taking the above into consideration, please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence, include one or more examples that illustrate why you meet the desired criteria above, and be addressed to the Assistant Deans of Admissions, Rod Garcia and Dawna Levenson (300 words or fewer, excluding address and salutation).

We strongly advise that you avoid starting your letter with a rote opening like “My name is Bob, and I am seeking a place in the MIT Sloan Class of 2023.” Your admissions reader will likely be asleep before they even finish the sentence! Such information is obvious—we can assure you that the admissions reader is well aware of your desire to be admitted to the MIT Sloan program—and is therefore a waste of precious word count, not to mention that it is hardly the kind of opening that will grab and hold someone’s attention.

The broad scope of this essay prompt allows you a great amount of freedom to choose and share the information you believe is most important for your candidacy. The 300-word maximum is equal to roughly three short paragraphs with which you can make an impression. Informal guidance provided by MIT Sloan’s admissions committee after the initial release of this essay question in 2017 indicated that applicants should focus on sharing their personal experiences, accomplishments, values, viewpoints, and/or skills to demonstrate (1) what they can contribute to the school’s greater community as a result and (2) why Sloan’s MBA program in particular is the best one for them. The school does not ask you to outline your post-MBA goals, but if doing so allows you to better substantiate your need or desire for a Sloan MBA specifically, a (very) brief explanation of your aspirations could be appropriate and useful.

After discussing your accomplishments—being careful not to brag!—along with any other elements of your profile that you feel make you a great fit with the school, strive to relate these achievements and qualities to the MIT Sloan experience. Citing specific courses, experiential opportunities, or other relevant resources can help you make a compelling case for your spot in the next incoming class.

VIDEO: Applicants are required to upload a 1 minute (60 second) video as part of their application. In your video, you should introduce yourself to your future classmates, tell us about your past experiences, and touch on why MIT Sloan is the best place for you to pursue your degree. Videos should adhere to the following guidelines:

  • No more than 1 minute (60 seconds) in length
  • Single take (no editing)
  • You should be speaking directly to the camera
  • Do not include background music or subtitles

We recommend using applications such as QuickTime or iMovie to record yourself.

This video will not be shared and is for use in the application process only.

Before you do anything else, stop and take a deep, cleansing breath. We know video essays can be scary, but MIT Sloan is not trying to stress you out. The admissions committee just wants a more dynamic representation of your personality than a written essay can provide, so your primary goal is simply to be as authentic and natural as possible. This is not a job interview, and you are instructed to consider your fellow students your intended audience, which certainly implies that a less rigid and traditionally “professional” demeanor is okay, though you should obviously never be inappropriate or offensive. Do not concern yourself with trying to say the “right” things in your video. The topic here is one you know very well—you! A good brainstorming tactic is to imagine meeting someone for the first time at a party or other event and to think about the kinds of questions you might ask one another in the process of getting acquainted. What kind of information would you want to know about this person, and what facts about yourself would you be most eager to share, as a way of conveying who you are and making a connection? (You can even Google “icebreaker questions” to find examples of these sorts of questions.) Take some time to delve into your personality in this way.

Keep in mind that even though in the scenario the school presents, you are supposed to be addressing your fellow students, your actual audience will be the admissions committee, so put some thought into what the school will already have learned about you from your cover letter essay and the other portions of your application. Because the admissions committee has included the proviso that you discuss your past and your reasons for choosing MIT Sloan for your MBA, you will naturally need to repeat some of this information, but focus on the overarching and most significant themes to create context and a foundation, rather than going into too much detail. Likewise, avoid pandering to the school or expressing your generic admiration for the program and instead discuss the primary reason(s) MIT Sloan fits your specific needs and personality. You have only one minute in which to make an impression, and even without knowing you personally, we are confident that you have more to your character than can be conveyed in a mere 60 seconds—so do not waste any of them!

Given that this is a video, you will want to pay some extra attention to the clothing you will wear, your tone of voice, your language style, and other such details. In the end, your message is what is most important, so no fancy bells or whistles are needed, but if you are a more creative type, you might consider ways of nonverbally communicating some of your strongest attributes and key aspects of your life to help permeate your submission with as much information as possible. For example, if you are an avid cook, consider filming your video while standing in a kitchen, perhaps wearing an apron (if you typically do so) and surrounded by the ingredients and tools you need to create one of your favorite recipes. If you are a dedicated guitar player, perhaps hold your guitar as you speak. If you are especially confident, you could even sing about yourself! Think about what makes you who you are today, decide what you most want to share with your future classmates, and then let your creativity flow.

On a practical note, be sure to speak clearly. You naturally do not want any part of your message to be lost or misunderstood, and the admissions committee may view your communication skills and style as indicators of how you might interact with your classmates and/or speak in the classroom. Although we recommend spending some time practicing in front of a mirror or a friend, do not over-rehearse. You still want to come across as genuine and natural.

For a thorough exploration of the MIT Sloan academic program, unique offerings, social life, and other key characteristics, be sure to download your complimentary copy of the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the MIT Sloan School of Management. 

Those candidates fortunate enough to be invited to interview at MIT Sloan (congratulations!) must respond to two additional essay questions.

Pre-Interview Essay 1: The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice. We believe that a commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity, and well-being is a key component of both principled leadership and sound management practice. In 250 words or less, please describe a time when you contributed toward making a work environment or organization more welcoming, inclusive, and diverse.

The key with this submission is showing initiative and input on behalf of others and making sure your actions and motivations are readily understood. In business school—as in life in general—you will encounter people who think differently from you, operate according to different values, and react differently to the same stimuli. And success in an endeavor often involves evaluating and even incorporating the views of others. With this pre-interview essay, MIT Sloan is hoping to learn how you view and respond to such differences, using the principle that past behavior is a fairly reliable predictor of future behavior. In the MIT Sloan MBA program, you will be surrounded every day by people who are unlike you in a multitude of ways, and you will need to work in tandem with and alongside these individuals when analyzing case studies, completing group projects, and participating in other activities both inside and outside the classroom. Note, however, that the essay prompt is not about simply participating in a diverse and inclusive culture but actually helping to cultivate one. The admissions committee wants to know that you are comfortable within such a dynamic, of course, but seems especially interested in hearing about a time when you stepped up to actively bring various people together in a harmonious and productive way.

MIT Sloan does not specify that you must have led the effort you are describing, though an example in which you have played a leadership role would be ideal if you have one. What you do have to do, in any case, is be sure that both the extent and the nature of your particular contribution to the project or event is front and center. The school does stipulate that the incident you share involve “a work environment or organization,” so your selected story should not be about a time you did something of this nature completely independently. Perhaps, for example, you organized (or helped organize) a welcome-our-new hires potluck for your department after a number of new employees joined the team. Or maybe you instituted (or participated significantly in) a mentorship program at your company, in which employees with different tasks and personal backgrounds were matched to learn from and support one another. Whatever your story, we recommend using a narrative approach to present it, while also conveying the thought process and motivation(s) behind your actions. This way, the admissions committee will take away both a clear picture of what you accomplished and the aspects of your character that inspired you and enabled your success.

Pre-Interview Essay 2: We are interested in learning more about how you use data to make decisions and analyze results. Please select one of the following prompts to respond to:

  • In 250 words to less, please describe a recent data driven decision you had to make, and include one slide presenting your analysis. The slide may include a data visualization example and should present data used in a professional context. Your slide must be uploaded as a PDF.
  • Please select an existing data visualization and in 250 words or less explain why it matters to you. The data visualization should be uploaded as a PDF. Examples may come from current events, a business analysis, or personal research.

The important thing to understand here is that with these prompts, MIT Sloan is testing not your ability to present data but rather your ability to use data to make decisions and to explain the data in a way that is understandable to the non-quantitatively minded. To craft an effective response, you need to create a data visualization that is clean, clear, and easy to digest. The admissions committee wants evidence that you can communicate complex ideas in simple ways—or even simple ideas in compelling ways.

We suggest you start by identifying a difficult problem you recently solved or considered at length. What were the factors involved in helping you reach your final solution or conclusion? Some were undoubtedly qualitative (what your instincts told you with respect to the situation), but many, if not most, were based on the facts, numbers, and other data involved. How was your decision-making process driven by these numbers or data? And which numbers and data? Once you have determined the answers to these questions, you will have the foundation for your submission. Your next challenge is determining the best way of presenting the data so that anyone can understand it, and this part is key. If you opt for an overly complicated or sophisticated visualization, perhaps thinking you might impress the admissions committee with your advanced analytic capabilities, you will end up with a slide that is opaque and confusing—and that will not likely bring you the response you want. Instead, imagine that you were drawing a diagram for a ten-year-old (or at least someone with absolutely no knowledge of your area of expertise) to understand; what would it look like? A regression scatter plot? Probably not. Two bar charts? That sounds about right.

Similarly, crafting and presenting your chosen situation using a narrative format will make your essay both more compelling and more accessible. Consider starting with the 250-word essay, and strive to clearly describe the problem you addressed, the factors you considered in reaching your ultimate solution/resolution, and why these factors were central to your decision(s). Then, create a diagram that uses data points to illustrate how you came to that conclusion. Remember, the enemy here is being overly sophisticated in your diagram. Presenting a straightforward argument supported by a clean, accessible diagram is your goal.

The Next Step—Mastering Your MIT Sloan Interview: Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. We therefore offer our free Interview Guides to spur you along! Download your free copy of the MIT Sloan School of Management Interview Guide today.

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